This Moose Belongs to Me by Oliver Jeffers is like the shreddie in a bag of Nuts ‘n Bolts: impossible to resist, and so spectacular in flavour it makes the pretzels and cheesy things pale in comparison. I know. Could this metaphor be more strained? I will confess that I’m experiencing difficulty coming up with adjectives for the singular brilliance of artists like Oliver Jeffers, Jon Klassen, Lisbeth Zwerger, and the other illustrators who populate this blog (and elsewhere.) While these artists are few, they are without a doubt masters of their respective mediums, and at the core of what is arguably a highpoint in the history of illustration. A low-point as well, as there are many more bad books than good, and e-readers threaten to erase or at least diminish the sensual and visual pleasure of a truly great picture book. At this moment, however, the privilege still exists, and I would strongly recommend that you get your hands on This Moose Belongs to Me.
It’s a typical boy meets moose, boy loves moose, boy loses moose to an old lady with an apple and discovers the heartless indifference of nature (and moose in particular) story. Well, not quite. The young lad, Wilfred, is not easily discouraged. The moose may be indifferent, but it’s a friendly sort of indifference, and so by virtue of an unbidden and sudden appearance in his life, Wilfred claims the moose as his own and names him Marcel. The boy lays the groundwork for their friendship by explaining the rules of How to be a Good Pet to Marcel, who inadvertently follows a few here and there, like Rule #11 Providing shelter from the rain, and Rule #16 Knocking down things that are out of reach (like apples, Marcel’s favourite.) One rule Marcel fails to obey is Rule #7, Sub-section B, Maintaining a certain proximity to home. The moose is prone to wander, and Wilfred learns to bring along a ball of string on their forest ambles. In spite of the rulebook and the affection, Wilfred discovers that animals are unpredictable, and maybe not quite as loyal as expected. Especially where apples are concerned.
This Moose Belongs to Me looks like no other book on the shelf. Oliver Jeffers quirky illustration style is present on every page, but the backgrounds are almost entirely ‘found’ landscapes, with Jeffers’ human and animal protagonists superimposed over the colourful canvasses of one Alex Dzigurski, an American landscape and seascape painter who, up to this point, was unknown to me. Incorporating the paintings of Dzigurski is an inspired touch. Initially, I thought Dzigurski might be part of the Hudson River School of American landscape painting, but he is 20th century, not 19th, and upon further investigation, more Bob Ross than Frederic Edwin Church. Nevertheless, his landscapes make imposing backdrops for Jeffer’s comic illustrations. In a few pictures, Jeffers own landscapes appear, distinguished by thicker daubs of paint. The entire book is a wonderful marriage of diverse imagery and styles, and Jeffers big-hearted, exquisitely warped sense of humour. An approach that bears some similarity to the work of Michael Sowa, whose backgrounds are often ‘re-imagined’ landscapes of Caspar David Friedrich and Arnold Böcklin.
In my quest to seek out all things Oliver Jeffers, I found Neither Here Nor There, The Art of Oliver Jeffers (Gestalten, 2012.) I am gobsmacked by this man’s talent and range. Not only an inspired children’s book illustrator, Jeffers is also a truly extraordinary painter. I’m guessing he doesn’t have a TV, because his output is astonishing. This Moose Belongs to Me is his tenth picture book, and many of his previous books have won or been nominated for a number of prestigious awards, including the Nestle Children’s Book Prize Gold Award and the Kate Greenaway Medal. Originally from Belfast, Oliver now lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.
I will admit that I was a little disappointed that This Moose Belongs to Me isn’t set in Canada. The landscape is certainly familiar, and there is, you know, a moose. What could be more Canadian? But, as poor Marcel discovered, we can’t always own the things we love, and while Oliver Jeffers doesn’t belong to me, I am the grateful recipient of his artistic bounty, which is a kind of salvation. And that is enough.
This Moose Belongs to Me by Oliver Jeffers. Published by HarperCollins, 2012
Previously reviewed~Stuck by Oliver Jeffers. Published by HarperCollins, 2011
Oliver Jeffers website